Stroud column: Before I was a Deadhead, I was an Arrowhead
I didn’t play organized football when I was a kid. I was a bit too scrawny, with a build that would later be better suited to cross country and track by the time I hit junior high.
But that didn’t mean I wasn’t out there in the park or someone’s back yard while growing up in rural northern Illinois playing “pretend” football with “real” tackling and an early test of that runaway speed that would one day help our high school track team win a conference title or two.
In those days, just about every boy, and even some of the girls, had a pretend football uniform, complete with shoulder and thigh pads, a helmet with your favorite team’s emblem and a jersey with your favorite player’s number emblazoned on it.
Mine was a bit makeshift, as I recall. I’d lost my Kansas City Chiefs jersey somewhere in the family move from a little town just east of Kansas City to another little town outside Rockford, Illinois.
The generic jersey I used in substitution didn’t have a number, so I found a red marker and scrawled Lenny Dawson’s #16 on the front and back. I still had my “official” Chiefs helmet with the “KC” arrowhead, though — still have it to this day.
I was always up for some backyard football with the neighborhood Bears and Packers kids. What great times.
So, this Sunday’s Super Bowl matchup between the Kansas City Chiefs and the San Francisco 49ers has some special meaning for me, to say the least. And it’s not just about ending a 50-year Super Bowl drought.
You see, the Kansas City Chiefs were born the same year I was born, having got their start three years earlier as the Dallas Texans before team owner and AFL co-founder Lamar Hunt relocated the team to KC in 1963.
My first vague memories of watching football on the fancy new color TV was around the time the Chiefs — after several successful seasons and a disappointing loss to the Green Bay Packers in the very first AFL/NFL championship game in 1967 — defeated the Minnesota Vikings 23-7 in Superbowl IV on Jan. 11, 1970.
I doubt I was too focused on the game, since I was only 6 and more into that Lincoln Logs set I had gotten for Christmas.
I do remember the longest NFL playoff game ever two seasons later on Christmas Day 1971 when the Chiefs and the upstart Miami Dolphins would battle it out in the AFC playoffs for more than 82 minutes of actual playing time before the Dolphins would prevail, 27-24.
Ed Podolak — who has lived in Basalt for several years now and who I wrote a story about in the mid-1990s when the Joe Montana-led Chiefs were in the playoffs — logged 350 all-purpose yards in that infamous game; an NFL playoff game record to this day.
The next year, we would move to Illinois, but my northwest Missouri roots would keep me a Chiefs fan in the middle of Chicago Bears country for the remainder of my youth.
Those were some rough years for the Chiefs while I was growing up in the late 1970s and early ’80s (I did root for the Denver Broncos in the 1978 Super Bowl, by the way).
Our best shot at a return to greatness would be just after I graduated high school in 1982. But the NFL players strike put a crimp in those plans. Then, we mourned the devastating drowning death that next summer of star running back Joe Delaney as he was trying to save some kids from drowning in a pond near his Louisiana home.
My own life’s journey would take me gratefully along the Deadhead path through college and in my early years living in Colorado. But I always remained loyal to the Arrowhead and those Chiefs, even as I grew to enjoy watching the orange-and-blue Denver Broncos through the John Elway years.
The Marty Schottenheimer era brought some epic Chiefs-Broncos showdowns, and I consider myself lucky to have been present at one of the best Monday Night Football games ever in 1994 at old Mile High Stadium (saw the Dead there, too) when Montana led the Chiefs to victory over Elway and the Broncos in the final two minutes.
For as good a run as the Chiefs had during that era, though, it was the Broncos who would own the AFC West for the next several years. I became a convert, pulling for the Broncos over my beloved Chiefs in those big deciding games.
I don’t mind having two intra-division favorites, even though it gets me in trouble with die-hard Broncos fans from time to time. But, hey, you gotta like these Chiefs and the incredible play-making ability of quarterback Patrick Mahomes. This is fun!
I also have a soft spot for 49ers quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo, who hails from my alma mater, Eastern Illinois University. But I have to believe this, finally, is the Chiefs year.
John Stroud is senior reporter/managing editor and an occasional columnist for the Post Independent.
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I have read every book that Mitch Albom has written, most of them more than once.